Mississippi Magic

Tom Gruenwald Outdoors takes viewers on remarkable adventures throughout the unique world of ice fishing. Yes, it’s that time again!  The excitement continues as TGO, Tom Gruenwald Outdoors, launches season three, where it’s “ALL ICE FISHING, ALL THE TIME!” Be sure to catch all the action Sundays at 8:30AM ET.

When select opportunities become available, it pays to act fast.  So I did.

The winter of 2013-2014 has gone down as one of the coldest in recent memory, and not one I’ll soon forget:  Weeks of filming in sub-zero temperatures, many with strong winds plunging wind chills to almost unheard of lows.

Most might not see much positive opportunity in this, yet there was a silver lining that piqued my curiosity.  Severe cold not only thickens ice in traditional areas–but causes it to form in places that might not ordinarily freeze over.  One such example is the Mississippi River, and I’m not talking about backwater areas or sloughs.  I’m referring to the channel itself.

The mighty Mississippi

The mighty Mississippi

Often, this area is simply not accessible.  Oh sure, treading very carefully during the heart of the winter season, ice anglers may be able to reach the outskirts of quiet eddies surrounding shoreline structures, the insides of wing and closing dams, even areas surrounding the lock walls alongside dams, if only for a limited time.

But this year was different.  Due to sustained sub-zero temperatures, the Mississippi froze well beyond these usual constraints, in some select areas, actually extending into the main channel itself.  One of these areas was about 100 yards down from Lock and Dam No. 8, at the head of Pool 9.  This is a main-channel area with plenty of current—more than enough to normally inhibit much, if any, ice formation.

However, the combination of substantially reduced flows and extremely cold weather with sustained temperatures remaining well below zero for a long period allowed a solid ice base to form, creating an interesting situation, simply because the deep water in this area aligns with the lock walls on the Wisconsin side and a series of wing dams along the Minnesota shore–and for those able to access them, both spots have historically held perch, saugers, walleyes and pike throughout the winter.

Before continuing here, I must emphasize:  This was a rare situation, and not something encountered during a “normal” season.  Travel on the Mississippi River during winter is never encouraged nor recommended.

It just so happened this winter was different, an uncommon occurrence.  Still, when planning any such trip where ice conditions vary greatly, you’re taking an extreme personal risk, so it’s critical to take every precaution possible to ensure you’re minimizing danger.  Most important is having local contacts–people intimately familiar with the area, and preferably ones that also happen to fish–available to provide updated reports on the ice conditions.   It also means wearing ice cleats, having safety picks and ‘throw ropes’ readily available in conveniently accessible locations–and it’s not a bad idea to wear or have a PFD close at hand, either.

However, we carefully timed things out, and proceeding with such safety precautions heeded, were able to access some prime, otherwise inaccessible waters and experience a truly unique winter outing, making this another special TGO ice fishing adventure you absolutely won’t want to miss!

*You can catch this Mississippi River experience with Tom Gruenwald on the season three episode of TGO, entitled “Take me to the River.”

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